To keep up with the city’s growth and improve response times, the Charlotte Fire Department is opening a new fire station and adding 18 firefighters this year as part of the city budget.
The budget includes $5.8 million for a new fire station in a high-growth area near Clanton Road and Interstate 77. It could take three years to open.
Another $900,000 will pay for the additional 18 firefighters for a new engine company at Fire Station 42 on Central Avenue. That station receives one of the highest volume of calls in the city.
As the city grows and changes, the Charlotte Fire Department must change as well, said Fire Chief Jon Hannan, but it takes time to fund and make those changes. By the time a station or firefighters are added, the city has grown in a new area and the department has more changes to make, he said.
“You’re always a little bit behind,” Hannan said.
To make things more challenging, the fire department is still recovering from the recession, Hannan said. The 2008 recession prevented the department from keeping up with growth and call load because of the lack of funding.
“It is a delayed impact before you start seeing an ability to deal with things like that,” Hannan said.
In 2008, the Charlotte Fire Department employed 929 firefighters. In the years since the recession, the number of firefighters has reached 1,033.
But that is just the start of their to-do list, Hannan said. The department has mapped the parts of Charlotte with large call loads, the busiest fire companies and the highest response times to show where the city needs to fund next.
“As the city grows and the call load goes up, it will take more resources for public safety,” he said.
In making its requests, the department looks at how quickly it can get one fire truck to a particular area. Preferably it is under six minutes. Southwest Charlotte, along Interstate 77, is a problem area where the first firetruck doesn’t arrive in under six minutes. Part of east Charlotte, from Independence Boulevard up toward Eastway Drive, is another problem area.
They also look at how quickly the minimum firefighting force arrives, which is four trucks for Charlotte. That should happen in under 10 minutes. Immediately north of uptown and Matthews are areas where it takes longer for the four trucks to arrive.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends a response time of under 9 minutes in urban areas. For suburban areas, the recommendation is under 10 minutes.
A rapidly growing city could assess its needs every year while a more rural city could every decade, said Tim Bradley, the executive director of the North Carolina State Firefighters’ Association. He said mapping out growth could look 10 years ahead, and departments need to predict how the needs of the city will change.
“In most cases, growth is long term, and it needs a plan,” he said.
Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney